How to Find the Best Paralegal Studies Certificate or Degree Program Near Theodore Alabama
Congratulations on your decision to enroll in paralegal studies near Theodore AL and begin your journey that will lead to a fulfilling career in legal services. However, it's crucial that you locate the right school so that you will get the extensive training that you require to achieve success. As you most likely understand, the legal field is one of the fastest growing occupations in the United States, and more and more academic options are being offered, both on campus and online. But with numerous alternatives to choose from, where does one begin? Many potential students start by trying to find schools within driving distance of their Theodore residences. Of those options, they search for the program with the lowest tuition. Although cost and location are important considerations when picking a college, they are not the only qualifiers you need to take into consideration. Things such as the reputation and accreditation of the school ought to be taken into consideration also. Later in this post we will review a list of questions that you need to ask prospective paralegal schools so that you can evaluate and compare every one prior to making your selection. But before we do, let's have a look at exactly what a paralegal does and the academic alternatives that are offered to earn either a paralegal certificate or degree.
Paralegals and Legal Assistants
Paralegals and legal assistants essentially both fill comparable job roles and functions, just with different titles. On the other hand, legal secretaries are not the same as either of those two positions and are part of a different job classification. Both paralegals and legal assistants assist Theodore AL attorneys with a wide variety of job functions, such as legal research, maintaining client files, communicating with clients, and drafting legal documents. Their specific job functions are based upon the type of practice where they are employed. For example, a legal assistant for a criminal law firm could help with the logistics of a trial or delivering documents to court. In private firms, the work of a paralegal is normally billed by the hour as are the attorney's. And the same as attorneys, they must perform with a high level of professionalism and comply with a strict standard of professional ethics. As mentioned, their duties can be varied in support of the firms where they work, but some of their regular activities can include:
- Investigating and fact checking cases
- Researching pertinent laws and cases
- Composing correspondence and legal papers
- Filing legal papers with the court or opposing counsel
- Assisting lawyers prepare for trial and keep organized with their cases
- Organizing and managing legal files, documents and other records
With all of their responsibilities, the job of a paralegal can be complicated and quite demanding. On the other hand, what they are not legally authorized to do is provide legal counsel and advice or represent a client in a legal proceeding. But paralegals are not restricted to clerical or administrative duties more apropos to the job of a legal secretary. Paralegals truly are the right hand support systems for attorneys. And because they do so much of the legal ground work and preparation, attorneys are able to take on a much larger number of clients or cases than they could otherwise.
Paralegal Certificates and Degrees and Certification
As we discussed earlier, paralegals are actually the same as legal assistants, with paralegals arguably having more professional sounding job titles. As a result, for either position the academic requirements and opportunities will be the same. The fastest means to launch your career as a paralegal in Theodore AL is by earning a certificate, which may take as little as 6 months to accomplish. A large number of entry level positions do require an Associate's Degree, which provide a more comprehensive education and can be acquired at numerous community colleges in 2 years. For an even more comprehensive education, four year Bachelor's Degrees are offered as well. After you have earned either a degree or a certificate, you might choose to continue and get a certification. Even though it is not a mandatory requirement in Alabama to work as a paralegal, certification may not only help increase your employment opportunities, but help establish you as a professional as well. Some of the highly respected certifying agencies in the field are:
- National Federation of Paralegal Associations
- American Alliance of Paralegals
- National Association of Legal Assistants
- National Association for Legal Professionals
By graduating with a paralegal certificate or degree from an accredited school (we will cover the advantages of accreditation later) and earning a certification, you will have taken two important initial steps that will help guarantee your success as either a paralegal or a legal assistant.
Paralegal and Legal Assistant Online Training
Online paralegal or legal assistant programs have become more available and may be a good alternative for individuals searching for convenient access to classes and flexible scheduling. Online programs can be especially appealing to Theodore AL students who keep working while obtaining a certificate or degree. As an added advantage, online schools can sometimes be less costly than more traditional options. Even ancillary expenses for such things as study materials or commuting can be minimized or eliminated. One caution, not all internet schools are accredited, which we will discuss in greater detail later. But at a minimum accreditation helps guarantee that the training you obtain is of the highest quality. So check to make sure that the program and school you are considering are accredited by a highly regarded agency, for instance the American Bar Association. But if you are dedicated enough to study in a less supervised and conventional setting, then earning your certificate or degree online might be the ideal option for you.
Points to Ask Paralegal Programs
Now that you have a better understanding about what paralegals do and what training options are available, you can start the process of evaluating schools. But because there are numerous programs offered at community and junior colleges in the Theodore AL area, in addition to vocational and trade schools, you need to find out what questions to ask in order to evaluate each one. This is particularly true if you add all of the online paralegal certificate and degree programs also. If you are like many prospective students, you will start by looking for schools within commuting distance and then comparing their tuition. But as we have already covered, there are other significant aspects to think about as well, such as accreditation and the reputation of the schools. So let's take a look at several of the questions you should be asking the programs you are investigating so that you can thoroughly vet each one and make your ultimate selection.
Is the Paralegal Training Accredited? The paralegal program and school that you enroll in should be accredited by a respected accrediting agency such as the American Bar Association. If it is an online school, it may also obtain accreditation from the Distance Education and Training Council, which targets online or distance learning. Accreditation will not only certify that the training you will obtain will be of the highest quality, but it will demonstrate to potential employers that you are a qualified professional as well. A number of Theodore AL law firms will only employ entry level paralegals that have graduated from an accredited school. Also, financial aid and student loans are often available only for accredited schools.
What's the School's Reputation? Investigate what the reputations and rankings are for the paralegal programs you are contemplating. This is of special importance if you are entering the field with no prior experience, since employers will have to make a decision based on the quality of your education exclusively. Checking that the school you select is accredited is an excellent first step. Checking school rating reports, such as those furnished by U.S. News and World Report, can help confirm school rankings and quality of education as well. You can also call several Theodore AL law practices that you may be interested in working for after graduation and ask which schools they suggest. Remember that even when a school is not among the most highly rated, its paralegal program may still have an exceptional reputation.
Does the Program Provide Internships? Internship programs offer students a chance to experience working in a law practice or other legal enterprise while attending school. They can also present a means for students to start creating contacts within the Theodore AL legal field. Ask if the paralegal programs you are reviewing offer internship programs, particularly in areas of the law that you are most interested in pursuing upon graduation.
Is Job Placement Assistance available? You will undoubtedly wish to secure employment quickly after graduation, but getting that initial job in a new profession can be challenging without support. Find out if the paralegal schools you are interviewing have job placement programs and what their placement rates are. High and rapid placement rates are an excellent sign that the schools have large networks and great relationships with Alabama legal services employers. It also confirms that their graduates are well regarded and in demand.
Where is the School's Location? Because laws vary from one state to another, it might be a good idea to select a paralegal school located in Alabama or the state where you plan to work after graduating. In addition, it will be necessary to build relationships in the area legal community, possibly by means of an internship program. This is all the more reason to acquire your education in the area where you want to work. Also, if you go to classes at a community college, most charge an increased tuition for students that live outside of their districts. So you may need to initially look at those colleges that are within the Theodore AL region.
What is the Total Expense? Paralegal schools can differ in cost based on the credential received and the length of training provided. However, tuition will not be the only expense for your education. Don't forget to include the cost of books, supplies and commuting to classes to your budget also. Financial aid may be accessible to help minimize part of the expense, so be sure to check with the school's financial aid department to find out what is available in Theodore AL. Of course if you choose to attend an online program, a portion these supplementary expenses, such as for commuting, may be decreased or eliminated.
Do the Class Times Accommodate your Schedule? A number of paralegal students continue working while receiving their training and need flexibility in class scheduling. If you can just attend weekend or evening classes near Theodore AL, make sure classes are offered at those times. Additionally, if you can only attend on a part time basis, confirm that the program you enroll in makes available that option. Last, find out what the process is for making up classes missed due to work, illness or family obligations.
Choose the Best Theodore Paralegal Degree or Certificate Program
Enrolling in the ideal paralegal studies training program is a vital first step to guarantee your success in the rewarding field of law. As we have addressed in this post, you have the option of attending classes on campus or you can participate online in the privacy and comfort of your Theodore home. Paralegal training programs are provided in numerous lengths and formats. Different types of private and public institutions offer paralegal training, including community and junior colleges, four year universities and colleges, as well as trade and vocational schools. Your selection of a paralegal program will have a profound influence on your prospects for success in your new profession. Since there is a broad range in the quality of programs, pick wisely. Give yourself the best possible chance to succeed in this rewarding profession. But no matter how you choose to receive your education and earn your degree or certificate, by asking the questions that we have provided you will have the ability to review each program and make your final selection. And with the appropriate training you can achieve your career goal to become a successful paralegal in Theodore Alabama.